John Buchan on Angling
Keith Harwood (The Medlar Press, £25)
When he died in 1940, as Governor-general of Canada, John Buchan (Baron Tweedsmuir) was just 64, but was distinguished as a classical scholar, lawyer, politician and novelist who had published more than 100 books. his was a precocious talent—he was listed in Who’s Who when still an Oxford undergraduate—and, as Keith harman demonstrates in this diligent and intriguing volume, much of Buchan’s writing was shaped by his boyhood among the streams of the Scottish Borders.
his passion for angling was practically lifelong. A son of the manse, he indulged in worming and guddling for trout and even tried ‘burning the water’, which he claimed later won him the political support of the Peebles poaching fraternity. he had an engaging fondness for remote places, from the Faroes to the Canadian mountains, and certainly had his priorities right, as he once interrupted a royal visit to sneak off and try the Cascapédia River.
Mr harwood has judiciously chosen extracts from Buchan’s prolific angling journalism, which is evocative and magisterial, ranging from an early eulogy on still waters to a lively version of Bishop Browne’s lost Tay salmon (‘as large as a well-grown boy’). Fishing featured in his fiction, too, from The Thirty-nine Steps to John Macnab, although one regret is that he never wrote more than two chapters—reprinted here—of Pilgrim’s Rest, his projected piscatorial opus magnum, a loss to the literature ranking alongside Arthur Ransome’s uncompleted volume The River Comes First.
Buchan was, in his own words, a ‘nympholept’ (‘one who was under the spell of running water’) and his fluency is infectious, bearing us from the Windrush to Tweedside, with a lively eye for natural detail. he liked to say that, for him, fishing was not a pastime, but a way of life. Amen to that. David Profumo